India‘s pace attack will target Jonny Bairstow’s broken finger if he is able to defy injury and take part in the fourth Test.
Mohammed Shami confirmed the tourists’ collective intention to hone in on Bairstow’s potential “weak zone” in Southampton.
Shortly before Bairstow began testing his left middle finger at England practice, with a view to proving he might even yet be able to keep wicket instead of Jos Buttler, Shami left him in no doubt about what to expect if and when he bats.
Asked if he would be tempted to target Bairstow’s injury, the India seamer said: “Obviously. When you see that a batsman has a weakness and he feels uncomfortable in some way, you’d prefer to work on that aspect.
“It’s not just me – any fast bowler will want to target his weak zone – so we will definitely look at that.”
Shami believes India’s pace attack, which outshone England’s at Trent Bridge last week – as the tourists reduced their series arrears to 2-1 with two to play – is currently the envy of world cricket.
“If you compare one on one (with England or any other opponent), we have better bowlers,” he said.
“When we hear this, it feels very good and takes our confidence sky high. India’s best pace attack is in front of you, performing and helping the team win.”
It is a bold statement perhaps, given England house James Anderson – seven wickets away from becoming the most successful pace bowler in global history – with new-ball partner Stuart Broad second in the national all-time list.
Shami added: “We’ve been able to learn a great deal from Anderson. We saw him on the last tour here…so far, what I’ve learnt from Anderson is this: the stricter and the more accurate you are, the better it is.”
Shami is as yet the least effective of the tourists’ pace bowlers this summer, with eight wickets at 41.5 each, after setting aside personal issues surrounding the apparent breakdown of his marriage.
“The last eight months have been tough for me…with the family matter,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what happened or didn’t – the period was very stressful for me. I was disturbed about it for some time. (But) at some point, I had to decide that representing the country came first.”
With that in mind, Shami has been a mainstay of an attack still missing the injured Bhuvneshwar Kumar but bolstered by the return to fitness of Jasprit Bumrah.
“The place where I was feeling disturbed…I just got out of there,” he said. Somewhere I felt that if the country needed me, and if I stopped, it would be a loss for my country. Yes, I was struggling with that issue – but being here matters more to me.”
Bhuvneshwar Kumar is almost guaranteed to succeed in England. His control, swing and consistency make him as likely as James Anderson to pick up wickets in England with the red ball.
But given his poor fitness record over the last few months, the Indian management should not risk him for the final Test against England at The Oval, as is being speculated. As things stand, he has not been included in the squads for the final two Tests and has been asked to prove his match fitness in the quadrangular series in India where he will play for India B against South Africa A.
The 28-year-old seam bowler aggravated his lower back injury during the final ODI against England in July. Before that, he missed at least four IPL games due to the injury and did not play the Nidahas T20 Trophy or the one-off Test against Afghanistan.
And despite the time off, Bhuvneshwar’s back hasn’t healed properly. He looked ordinary during the three T20s and ODI and one can imagine what a less-than fit Bhuvneshwar can be like over five days in a Test.
Every day, England's players form a circle and laugh uproariously at how India managed Bhuvneshwar Kumar's injury.— Karthik Krishnaswamy (@the_kk) August 19, 2018
India are fighting their way back into the Test series and they did that by battering England with relentless pace coupled with movement off the pitch. Jasprit Bumrah consistently bowled at high pace in the third Test at Trent Bridge which India won by 203 runs.
He was given great support by Ishant Sharma and Hardik Pandya and although Mohammed Shami was off colour, his pace and intent has been right up there.
So why would you even think of breaking up that pack and bringing in a player who might break down in the middle of the match with possibly the series on the line?
The Indian team’s fitness management has been sub par this year. Wicketkeeper Wriddhiman Saha was recovering from a finger fracture and ended up aggravating a mild shoulder injury.
Bhuvneshwar was rushed back from injury to play for Sunrisers Hyderabad in the IPL and that has undoubtedly had a deleterious impact. Even if the seamer bowls well in one one-day match this week, it does not mean he is ready for a Test in England.
The current bunch of quicks that India have are all operating at the top mark. If India manage to avoid defeat in Southampton or even win it, all pacers should retain their spots in the team for the final match. Bhuvneshwar should not be rushed back as the Indians already tried that in the third ODI against England and failed miserably, with wicket-keeper MS Dhoni standing up to the stumps to him at one stage.
India batsman KL Rahul is enjoying a well-deserved break after playing his part in winning the third Test against England at Trent Bridge.
Rahul starred in two fifty-plus stands for the opening wicket in the third Test and also snared seven catches at slip as India pulled one back after losing the first two Tests.
The fourth Test of the series starts at Southampton on Thursday and Rahul enjoyed some time away from cricket.
Rahul, accompanied by fast bowler Umesh Yadav, visited the Emirates Stadium on Saturday to watch Arsenal take on West Ham in the Premier League.
Rahul not only got to watch the game but also met Danny Welbeck. In one of the posts, Rahul and Umesh can be seen showing off their footballing skills.
More pics and video below.